Boyden: Talent Contest

The struggle to recruit and retain top executives will intensify as the looming economic downturn takes hold. Chief Executive Officer asks Chris Clarke of Boyden World Corporation how companies can secure the business talent they will need to prosper in these challenging times.

Numerous CEOs have been fired in the wake of the sub-prime collapse and credit crunch, and as the consequences of the current financial crisis ripple out beyond financial services, economic growth will slow and other heads will roll.

In this uncertain atmosphere, the task of retaining and recruiting business talent takes on the intensity of a battle. It is a battle on two fronts: first to retain essential executives who may be disillusioned with business setbacks and ready to jump ship, and second to bring in those who can rescue a sinking ship and restore confidence.

So how do companies ensure that they don’t lose out on the executive talent they need? Chief Executive Officer spoke to Chris Clarke president and CEO of executive search company Boyden World Corporation.

What challenges face companies recruiting at CEO and senior management level?

One major challenge is deciding whether to promote from within or recruit externally. Normally, external hires fail more than internal ones, because they come from different business cultures and markets. However, when businesses are in trouble, internal candidates are often tainted or locked into the failing business model. Managers with the skills and reputation for turnarounds are needed.

Another key challenge is that, when times are tough, successful leaders who are doing well often see moving as risky, especially if they are being expected to rescue a company on the rocks. They reason that because there is high risk involved, they must be more highly rewarded, at a time when boards and stockholders may be scrutinising executive pay.

How can companies find the best candidates?

They need to challenge and develop their internal talent and identify people with the right characteristics for senior posts. If it is necessary to bring in leaders at middle management level or even at the top for future development, a retained executive search firm can help define 'fishing pools' for the company.

The company board’s nomination committee has a crucial role to play. It must consider a business' needs and assess internal and external candidates, but it must not act rashly. To avoid an ill-considered appointment, an interim CEO could be put in place until the right person for the role is found. Boyden can deliver interim managers to support firms during temporary gaps in their management succession.

The nomination committee must ensure that the best external candidates are considered for key appointments, and it must be careful not to choose an executive search firm with too many off-limits clients or the search may be ineffective. Nominations must also ensure that there is more than one candidate for a job. If it becomes fixated on one individual, that person has enormous pay bargaining power.

What problems can arise when looking for candidates globally?

In companies with global activities, it is essential to look beyond home shores. But finding and assessing candidates globally can be difficult. Some search companies just trot out the usual list of people they know. Others try to do everything themselves and fail to call upon the wider resources of the company.

A client business needs to work with a search company with global coverage that can understand local and global business cultures and see beyond the obvious.

How important is a candidate’s culture fit?

Normally it is crucial. Candidates tend to get hired for their experience and competencies, and fired because they don’t fit the business culture. However, in some turnarounds, where the culture has failed, the new CEO may need to change the culture.

Why choose Boyden as an executive search partner?

Boyden has a global reach and specialists in most industries and functions, and it does not expect its clients to pay it to learn about the client’s industry and issues. Also Boyden is the first search firm in the world to certify its new professionals via a rigorous training scheme and a comprehensive, client-driven quality assurance and business excellence programme.

Chris Clarke president and CEO of executive search company Boyden World Corporation.